While we’re in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic where social distancing and staying inside is paramount, planning for an upcoming cosmetic treatment can take a backseat. However, like all industries trying to adjust to the new normal, some doctors are turning to virtual consultations to keep clients happy and to plan for future procedures. Not only are these digital appointments applicable now more than ever, but they’re also a good tool for patients who live out of town or have other circumstances that prohibit them from coming into the office. NewBeauty called up New York City plastic surgeon, Edward S. Kwak, MD, to talk with him about virtual consultations, what they entail and why they’re going to become the new normal:
NewBeauty: When should you consider a virtual consultation outside of a pandemic crisis?
Dr. Kwak: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I would see virtual consults in my office more so for people who are out of town. Because I’m based in New York City, my practice has a broad geographic base. I have patients locally from the Tri-State area who still have to travel one to two hours, to patients coming from across the country, to patients coming from Europe and Asia. We recommend virtual meetings for these patients for both preoperative and postoperative assessments.
NewBeauty: Can you do a virtual assessment for all types of procedures?
Dr. Kwak: Yes. My specialty is in facial plastic surgery, so we can do consultations for virtually all facial plastic surgery procedures, but my focus is weighted towards aesthetic facial surgery such as rhinoplasties, blepharoplasties and facelifts. These consultations are very useful for these surgeries, especially from the patient’s perspective. If they’re planning on coming in from a distance or don’t have the accessibility, virtual consults can assist in determining if they are good candidates for these types of surgeries. It is also an opportunity to establish a rapport and a doctor/patient relationship. It’s a good way to see if the doctor is the right fit in terms of experience, understanding of the patient’s concerns, and compatible from a personality perspective.
NewBeauty: How should you prep?
Dr. Kwak: We first confirm with the patient with an email explaining the process. To help with the assessment, patients may email photographs of their face prior to the virtual consult. Patients are asked to log into a HIPAA compliant software designed for telemedicine. (However, now with the Coronavirus situation, my understanding is that they’ve reduced some of those restrictions temporarily, so you could also use more common technology like FaceTime and Skype.) We also ask that they use a computer with a high resolution camera and microphone in a place with good lighting and minimal background noise for the consultation. Another request we ask is to refrain from wearing too much makeup, so how you appear virtually matches how you’d look if you were coming to the office for an in-person meeting.
NewBeauty: What should you expect during a virtual consultation?
Dr. Kwak: The actual constitution would be very consistent with what we would do face-to-face in terms of obtaining an accurate history from the patient. If they have had prior surgeries, what other health issues they may have, what medication they may be taking, if they’ve had any trauma and if they have any functional issues as well. After this is performed, we would switch over to talking about the patient’s aesthetics and potential goals for a procedure. Based on this discussion, along with the physical findings seen on our virtual consultation, I typically have a good idea if they would be good candidates.
At the conclusion of the consultation, we encourage candidates to come in for a traditional in-person consultation to confirm and make final recommendations.
NewBeauty: What are the pros and cons of a virtual consultation?
Dr. Kwak: The biggest benefit is that it’s convenient and it saves time on the patient’s end. There’s also privacy involved with it as long as these platforms are secure, and it allows an individual to see if plastic surgery is the right thing for them before they want to commit to an in-person consultation. The major con of this is that it really can’t replace a traditional in-person consultation, where a proper physical and assessment is ultimately required by the surgeon to determine if the patient is a good candidate for surgery and to make final recommendations on what type of procedure will be best for them. We do discuss during the virtual consultation that recommendations based virtually are preliminary and the ultimate recommendation may be modified based on the traditional in-person consultation.
NewBeauty: What types of questions should you ask your doctor?
Dr. Kwak: I would recommend asking what they would traditionally ask in a face-to-face meeting: What changes are you looking for? What does the process involved? If this procedure is going to require local or general anesthesia? What’s the recovery time associated with it? What can they do and what can’t they do after surgery? What’s a realistic timeframe that they think that they need to account for in terms of healing?
NewBeauty: Is there anything else our readers should know about scheduling a virtual consult?
Dr. Kwak: These are unprecedented times; plastic surgeons need to ensure safety to our patients and our community. Currently, to help mitigate the burdens of our area emergency rooms and to limit potential exposures, my office is open only for patients with emergencies or for immediate post operative concerns. For all others, we are offering virtual consults for both preoperative and postoperative evaluations. I am hopeful this pandemic resolves quickly, but going forward I anticipate changes in how we go about our daily routines, including visits to our doctor’s office. Virtual consults will likely be incorporated in all parts of healthcare, becoming more mainstream than it’s ever been. I think there’s going to be a tremendous digital boom in terms of how we deal with postoperative and preoperative assessments. Changes that both the surgeon and the patient have to adapt to going forward.